Someone once asked me about the difference between ‘focusing’ and ‘prioritizing’ – focusing is knowing what to do; prioritizing is knowing what to do first. These are decision points faced by marketers every day. Especially when planning for a new fiscal year.
Every budget planning cycle, chief marketing officers find themselves hunkered down with their marketing teams, plans and spreadsheets, magically trying to conjure up ways to achieve more with less. All too often, they end up trying to spread scarce dollars over too many projects, which jeopardizes ROI. In other words, when dollars are spread too thin, spending on any given initiative may not be at the level required to produce a return.
When stuck between a rock (the health system’s need for profitable growth) and a hard place (the drive to cut costs), how do marketers prioritize marketing investments and gain organizational commitment to those investment decisions?
First, stop doing things that have marginal or no return. Use this opportunity to take a stand and stop funding activities that have no or minimal impact on strategic growth, customer acquisition, customer retention and financial performance. Specifically look at non-marketing activities that sap resources, and work with your colleagues across the health system to eliminate or move those deeds elsewhere. Make sure your team is performing at its best; while it’s always difficult to move people out, when you are being asked to do more with fewer FTEs, each has to be a stellar performer.
Second, use a data-driven marketing resource allocation methodology to prioritize limited marketing resources (dollars and FTEs) to growth initiatives that have the best potential for improving business performance and positioning the organization for long-term success.
Three Key Decision Points
In prioritizing marketing investments, there are three basic decision points:
- What businesses, clinical programs or market expansion initiatives offer the best opportunity for growth and profitability?
- Within priority programs and service lines, what strategies and tactical initiatives will best achieve marketing goals?
- What infrastructure investments will be required to support effective growth and marketing management?
In other words, what will you choose to invest in to drive growth and improve profitability, and what activities and support systems will contribute most to those objectives?
Focus. Focus. Focus.
Both top-down and bottom-up approaches to marketing resource allocation are necessary; top down for strategic marketing planning across a health system’s portfolio of service lines and market initiatives – and bottom up to develop specific marketing plans and budgets within each priority program. Most important, perhaps, is to use a data-informed approach to gain organizational commitment to investment decisions and staying on strategy.
Gaining consensus is critical to keeping the organization focused on the marketing plan and investment decisions. Not every bright shiny object can or should be ignored – some may very well offer significant opportunities – but distractions can be minimized. The keys to effective marketing management are focused execution, ability to discern when course corrections should be made, and capacity to seize new on-strategy opportunities.
In upcoming posts, I’ll dig more deeply into methods for arriving at these decisions.